Mafia Inc.: The Long, Bloody Reign of Canada's Sicilian Clan - André Cédilot, André Noël (2011)
Chapter 16. OPERATION COLISÉE
GIULIANO ZACCARDELLI WAS a controversial cop. The first Italian immigrant to be appointed commissioner of the RCMP, he was also the only head of Canada’s national police corps ever forced to resign. Zaccardelli was born in Prezza, a mountain village in the Abruzzo region, just after the end of the Second World War. During the final phases of the conflict, artillery and arms fire often echoed through this sparsely populated, mountainous region in Italy, between Rome and the Adriatic. From their strongholds deep in the forests, well-organized resistance fighters led successful attacks against Mussolini’s Fascist troops and their German allies. The villages of Abruzzo emerged from the war battered; their inhabitants eked out a living with half the average income of residents of Northern Italy. The Zaccardellis immigrated to Canada when young Giuliano was just seven, in the mid-1950s—around the same time as Vito Rizzuto’s family.
Vito and Giuliano, who were about the same age, both grew up in Saint-Léonard, in east Montreal. But they would follow diametrically opposite paths. The former became the head of his adopted country’s most influential criminal organization; the latter, head of its largest police force, and one of organized crime’s most formidable adversaries.
Zaccardelli’s career with the RCMP ended in such a barrage of criticism that it’s easy to forget that he did more than many people to expose the extent of organized criminal activities in Canada, as well as their ramifications in business and political circles.
When Zaccardelli joined the RCMP in 1970, he was one of a handful of officers with university degrees (a bachelor of commerce in business administration from Montreal’s Loyola College, which would later merge with Sir George Williams University to become Concordia University). Over thirty years, Zaccardelli rose through the RCMP ranks: from recruit in Alberta to investigator in the force’s Commercial Crime Branch, first in Toronto and then in Calgary; officer in charge, Immigration and Passport Branch, at Ottawa headquarters and several other increasingly senior postings before becoming deputy commissioner, Organized Crime and Operational Policy and, finally, commissioner.
“I … bring an insatiable appetite to succeed, to do well,” Zaccardelli told Concordia University Magazine. His old friend Roy Berlinquette, himself a former deputy commissioner, remarked that “Zack” had “started at the bottom of the latter and proudly made his way to the top as an immigrant.” He added, “He’s the perfect example of integrity, no doubt about it,” noting that his friend had an interesting hobby: studying the history of the Mounties. In Berlinquette’s opinion, Zaccardelli was a Type A personality: nervous, highly competitive, ambitious, incapable of taking things easy. The commissioner agreed with that assessment of his character. “I accept that by most definitions I may be a bit of a dysfunctional person and a bit of a workaholic,” he said. “But if that’s what it takes to provide better quality public service to Canadians, I’m willing to be a little dysfunctional.”
The word “dysfunctional” almost certainly would have sounded like an understatement in the poorest of taste to the ears of another immigrant, Maher Arar, who had been handed the rawest of deals by his adopted country. From his perspective, the term “iniquitous” was surely a more adequate characterization of the behaviour of Canada’s top cop. Arar, who lived in Ottawa, had the misfortune of knowing a man who, like him, was an engineer and had been born in Syria, but who had also had a business relationship with an Egyptian-born Canadian labelled an associate of Osama bin Laden. After the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, it was inevitable that someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew the sworn enemy of all Western democracies should be suspect. The RCMP placed Arar under surveillance, and informed U.S. law enforcement about him. In September 2002, on his return from a vacation in Tunisia with his wife, Arar made a stopover in New York. U.S. authorities arrested him there and, despite the fact that he was a Canadian citizen, deported him to Syria, a country known to practise torture. American and Canadian intelligence agencies doubtless hoped that the Syrians’ use of “coercive interrogation techniques” would force the engineer to spill secrets about al-Qaeda. He had none to give. Arar’s expulsion from the United States and the conditions of his incarceration in Syria outraged Canadians. Bowing to public opinion, Ottawa repatriated him. Zaccardelli was summoned to explain the RCMP’s role in the affair before a parliamentary committee. He evaded questions, got bogged down in his answers, gave contradictory testimony, lost credibility and had no choice but to tender his resignation, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper, only too happy to put an end to the saga, duly accepted.
The dethroned commissioner then had to face a further parliamentary committee to explain another thorny issue: RCMP officers alleged there had been misappropriation of the force’s pension and insurance plans, and suspected senior management of turning a blind eye to widespread fraud. Zaccardelli vehemently rejected the accusations, but by then it was clear that his famous reputation for integrity was fast ebbing.
Such is the sombre side of the man’s legacy. It would be a shame if its brighter facets do not prove as enduring. All too familiar with the Mafia’s pernicious influence in his homeland, Giuliano Zaccardelli wanted to keep his adopted country from being similarly poisoned, and he threw himself heart and soul into that mission.
Zaccardelli was given senior responsibility for criminal investigations in Quebec just as the massive Operation Compote probe was wrapping up, with the arrests of nearly four dozen drug traffickers and money movers associated with the Rizzuto clan, stung by the RCMP’s covert currency exchange. Later, after his transfer to headquarters in Ottawa, Zaccardelli studied all of the pertinent analysis reports. Their conclusions were worrisome. In 1998, CISC had once again sounded alarm bells about the Sicilian Mafia’s expansion. CISC maintained that it was the most influential criminal organization in Canada, by reason of its “ties to other Sicilian clans within the country, as well as throughout the world, particularly in Venezuela, the United States and Italy” and alliances with outlaw motorcycle gangs as well as South American, Eastern European, Asian and Aboriginal gangs. “There is less violence within the Sicilian clan, in sharp contrast to groups like the outlaw motorcycle gangs,” the report went on. “This shows that this criminal organization has total control over its jurisdiction and its criminal activities. It is fully mature and is able to use the accumulated wealth from proceeds of crime to invest in legitimate enterprises and to engage in corruption.”
In 1999, Zaccardelli was named deputy commissioner, Organized Crime and Operational Policy; it was a newly created position. With the appointment came an invitation to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s office. The policeman looked forward to the meeting with a Boy Scout’s enthusiasm, confident that a pat on the back and assurances of the prime minister’s steadfast support would be forthcoming. The encounter lasted barely longer than a handshake. Chrétien congratulated the new deputy commissioner on his appointment and, with his characteristic loose informality, asked, “Organized crime, does that exist for real?”
“I left his office flabbergasted,” Zaccardelli recalled in a conversation with one of the authors of this book. “Talk about a fine way to start my new assignment.”
Chrétien, it seemed, cared more about defying Quebec separatists than organized crime. His government had certainly needed a lot of persuading before it finally enacted anti-gang legislation. It was also his government that had amended the law to permit early release for non-violent offenders after one-sixth of their prison terms. The drug traffickers who had been netted thanks to Operation Compote ended up being the first prisoners to benefit from that measure. Zaccardelli, however, could count on plenty of public support for his cause, especially in Quebec, where the biker war was raging. In 1997, hundreds of ordinary citizens, fed up with living in fear of car bombings, had demonstrated outside the Hells Angels’ fortified clubhouse in Saint-Nicolas, south of Quebec City. For hours, they marched back and forth in front of the grim, fenced-in blockhouse bristling with surveillance cameras, chanting slogans demanding it be shut down. The mayor of Saint-Nicolas, who wasn’t known for his finesse, evicted the bikers thanks to anti-gang legislation and sent in the bulldozers. The City of Montreal also banned the Hells Angels from clubhouses on its territory. Lawyers for the bikers denounced these presumed infringements on freedom of assembly, and instituted legal proceedings.
The municipalities countered by joining a nationwide movement calling for tougher anti-gang provisions in the Criminal Code. In April 2000, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities held a conference on the topic in Montreal and invited Zaccardelli to speak. “Criminal groups are more powerful and sophisticated than ever before,” he said. “They constitute a true threat to democracy. Like the criminals, who are taking advantage of market globalization, we must, now more than ever, work hand in hand. Just as they do, we must maximize the exchange of information and better target our investigations.” In that regard, he added, Quebec was blazing trails: regional joint forces squads (escouades régionales mixtes, or ERMS), comprising officers from the RCMP, the SQ, Montreal police and other municipal forces, had recently been developed to go after the outlaw biker gangs. Anti-Mafia operations in the province, meanwhile, were now being spearheaded by the CFSEU, overseen by the RCMP.
On September 2 of that year, Zaccardelli became RCMP commissioner. A week later, he laid out his concerns before journalists at a press conference. “For the first time in this country, we are seeing signs of criminal organizations that are so sophisticated that they actually are focussing on destabilizing certain aspects of our society,” he said. Right across Canada—except, notably, in Quebec—editorialists took him to task for being alarmist, and demanded that he provide evidence to bolster his assertions.
Events quickly proved that he wouldn’t have to.
On September 13, veteran Journal de Montréal crime reporter Michel Auger had just parked his car in the lot of the newspaper building on Frontenac Street when, as he bent to retrieve his laptop from the trunk, a hired killer shot him several times in the back. The man fled in a car, which was then abandoned and set fire to a few streets away. His modus operandi strongly suggested that criminal bikers were behind the hit. As he lay on the ground, Auger kept a cool head. He reached for his cellphone and called 911. In wheezing tones, he explained what had just happened and gave precise instructions as to his whereabouts. Police and paramedics arrived quickly. Miraculously, the journalist survived and would recover almost completely from his wounds.
The attempted murder of a newspaperman, along with the killing of prison guards and the placing of explosives under police cars, certainly qualified as attempts by organized crime to “destabilize aspects of society.” Hundreds of people took to the streets of Montreal to express their outrage. Amendments were made to the anti-gang legislation to make the work of prosecutors easier: from now on, they could charge an individual for associating with a criminal organization even if that person claimed not to know the names of any other members. Operation Springtime, on March 28, 2001, saw police arrest 128 Hells Angels members and associates. Maurice “Mom” Boucher, leader of the Angels’ elite Nomads chapter, faced more first-degree murder charges, including for the killings of prison guards Diane Lavigne and Pierre Rondeau. He had been acquitted of those murders at an earlier trial in 1998, but this time he would be found guilty and sentenced to a lengthy prison term.
With that crippling blow struck against the bikers, police could direct their heavy artillery at Canada’s other criminal organizations. Zaccardelli asked the RCMP’s Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver divisions to map out a plan of attack. In Montreal, home base of the Canadian Sicilian clan, police identified the Mafia as their priority target. Following an established bureaucratic convention whereby RCMP operations in Quebec are given code names beginning with the letter C (the Mounties’ Montreal detachment is “C” Division), this latest initiative was dubbed Project Cicéron, after the French name of the famous Roman orator Cicero. Over the past thirty years, a dozen or so investigations had specifically targeted the Italian Mafia, but they had all come up empty: none had succeeded in incriminating the godfather, Vito Rizzuto. This time, Zaccardelli hoped the RCMP would prevail where other probes had failed.
His hopes were soon dashed. For months, a surveillance detail of about a dozen officers was assigned to watch Vito. They tailed him whenever he left his home on Antoine-Berthelet Avenue, and tried to listen in on as many of his conversations as possible. But the don was crafty. He was a man of very few words on the telephone. He delegated a great deal. If he had to give his assent, for example in settling a conflict or approving a drug shipment, he did so on the sly, far from prying electronic eyes and ears. He might hold meetings during the daytime, in the evening or at night, in all manner of locales: in restaurants, at nightclubs, on the golf course or in the street. The police had neither the time nor the technical resources to eavesdrop on every single occasion.
Undaunted, Zaccardelli succeeded in marshalling a budget for an even more extensive operation. Using intelligence gleaned from Cicéron and investigations conducted in Ontario, officers drafted a new affidavit and obtained authorization from a judge to order surveillance on dozens of mobsters and their associates. The fox was too elusive; they had no choice but to lay traps throughout the entire forest. Projet Cicéron was supplanted by Operation Colisée, named this time for the Colosseum in Rome. It eventually mobilized about a hundred officers, along with dozens of translators, analysts and civil employees, lasted four years and cost nearly $35 million—making it the most expensive investigation in RCMP history. The Mounties’ law enforcement partners in the CFSEU, the SQ and Montreal police, along with other organizations such as Revenue Canada, also took part.
On September 23, 2002, a team set up a camera across from the Consenza Social Club (which would change its name three years later to the Associazione Cattolica Eraclea), the café that served as the Rizzutos’ headquarters on Jarry Street in Saint-Léonard. On June 18, 2003, police installed hidden microphones inside the café, followed on January 19, 2004, by tiny cameras. That was the day before Vito Rizzuto was arrested at his home for “that thing in New York”: the murder of the three Bonanno capos. The Mounties had high hopes that he would be handed over to the FBI, but that wasn’t enough for them: they wanted to decapitate the organization, by amassing sufficient evidence to imprison Vito’s father, Nicolò, and every other senior member of the clan.
In the space of four years, Old Nick went to “The Cos” 860 times—an average of once every two days. Now balding and rotund, but always impeccably dressed, Nicolò Rizzuto had celebrated his eightieth birthday in 2004. His name had first appeared on the public radar thirty years earlier, during Quebec’s organized crime commission hearings. Despite the position of ultimate power he had held within the Mafia since then, he had never been convicted of a crime in Canada. In his younger days in Sicily, he had earned a reputation as a calm, polite man. But with advancing age had come increasing bitterness: more than once, the police heard him tell associates to respond with violence in trifling matters. He haggled over sums of money, even small amounts. And every once in a while, he had a bit too much to drink. He was arrested in the Montreal borough of Ahuntsic-Cartierville on New Year’s Eve, 2005, on charges of driving while impaired: he had driven his Mercedes into a fire truck.
In view of his reputation and his “record of service,” every member and associate of the Mafia treated the patriarch with the utmost deference, affectionately calling him Zio Colà (“Uncle Nick”). More than once, the hidden cameras at the Consenza captured scenes of his men kissing him on both cheeks—the sign of respect due to Sicilian “men of honour.”
Paolo Renda, Nick Rizzuto’s son-in-law, was recorded entering the café on 667 occasions during the police probe. Despite his deep involvement in the clan’s activities, the consigliere was the most discreet of the four members of the “executive committee” that took over for Vito Rizzuto after his arrest in early 2004. Then in his sixties, Renda had never been convicted of any crime, save setting fire to his Boucherville barbershop in 1972, apparently to collect the insurance. He owned a company, Renda Construction, and co-owned another, the Loreto funeral home. He was by turns an arbitrator and a prefect, weighing members’ grievances and sanctioning cases of misconduct: the Consenza, he joked, was “the house of problems.” Up until Vito’s departure, he had spent far more time in business circles than at the café.
Rocco Sollecito was seen 561 times in the Jarry Street establishment, which he had managed for many years. He had been mixed up in the Penway stock swindling affair. Sollecito was an old friend of Nicolò Rizzuto’s who was often involved in settling issues with the up-and-coming generation of Mafiosi. In the mid-1980s, he had spent a few years in prison for an affair involving illegal immigration. His name appeared often in investigators’ reports, and he was a frequent sight alongside Vito Rizzuto in police photo albums, including that of the wedding of Alfonso Caruana’s daughter in Toronto. Like the Rizzutos and Paolo Renda, he came from Cattolica Eraclea.
Francesco Arcadi stopped by “The Cos” 616 times. This former Cotroni crony was Calabrian, but that hadn’t stopped him from becoming a very active member of the Sicilian Mafia; after Vito’s arrest, police had pegged Arcadi as a possible successor. He was the clan’s street boss, liaising with the outlaw bikers and Montreal’s street gangs. Reporting to him were two younger men, Lorenzo Giordano and his associate Francesco Del Balso.
Like Arcadi, this extremely aggressive pair of mobsters ran networks of drug traffickers, bookmakers and enforcers. They made regular reports to Arcadi at the Consenza but maintained their own headquarters at the Bar Laennec in Laval. On November 2, 2004, the RCMP installed a camera outside that establishment, located in a strip mall near the Cité de la Santé hospital complex. They set up another camera inside, on the night of February 14, 2005. Over a two-year period, Giordano entered the Bar Laennec 221 times, and Del Balso went on 541 occasions—almost every day.
Police deployed cameras and listening devices in several locations, but installing them was problematic. A man hired by the clan kept watch over the Consenza until early in the morning, seven days a week. The Mounties’ technicians had a window of just a few hours in which to set up their surveillance gear. Once it was installed, problems could still crop up. Cameras and microphones regularly broke down. Camera angles had to be tweaked. Major renovations were planned in at least one location, meaning the gadgetry had to be removed, then reinstalled after work was complete. Crews had to return to the Consenza under cover of darkness no less than thirty-four times. Each installation or repair cost an average of eighty thousand dollars. The technical teams were supported by a small armada of plainclothes officers. Staying out of sight or riding in unmarked cars, police patrolled the environs of “The Cos,” on the lookout for any suspicious activity near 4891 Jarry Street East, and gave the alert at the slightest sign of danger. As needed, other teams watched suspects’ residences, notifying colleagues whenever they came or went.
Day after day, translators transcribed hours upon hours of electronic surveillance; analysts watched videotapes; and liaison officers exchanged information with their counterparts in Italy and the United States. When necessary, investigators tracked their targets in bars, restaurants and even the Casino de Montréal, favoured by younger Mafiosi looking to launder their money. Operation Colisée aimed to crack down on all of their criminal activities: drug imports; illegal sports betting; marijuana sales in the United States, New Brunswick and Ontario; loansharking; corruption; muscling in on public works contracts; money laundering; extortion; assault; kidnapping and murder.
During the investigation, 80 percent of the 125 people seen at the Consenza and who could be identified by officers were either in police files or had criminal records.
It was in this unsavoury café, which for decades had been the de facto headquarters of the Sicilian clan, that the organization’s profits wound up. Week after week, Rizzuto family soldiers arrived there to collect money to deposit. Businessmen, Mafia victims and accomplices alike, came bearing protection money and commissions. Between February 2, 2004, and August 31, 2006, a camera recorded 192 such transactions in the backroom of the social club. In a style devoid of literary embellishments, a police analyst wrote the following account, among thousands of others: “The leaders of the organization, the recipients of this money, were present for the majority of transactions … On April 1, 2004, Rocco Sollecito and Nicolò Rizzuto are observed counting money in the small office at the rear of the Consenza. A few moments later, Rizzuto is seen taking this money and putting it in his right sock as well as his jacket pockets.”
Men brought wads of banknotes in plastic bags or boxes. The bills were dumped onto a round table in the middle of the “office” and sorted into stacks.
“Sette, otto … venticinque,” Rizzuto counted.
“Uno, due, tre, quattro, cinque, sei, sette,” a visitor said. “Otto, duecento …”
“Twelve and twelve, that’s twenty-four? No?” Rizzuto asked.
“Yes,” the visitor replied, and resumed counting: “Dieci, undici, dodici, tredici … trentaquattro, that’s thirty-four for you.”
“Three thousand dollars,” Rizzuto concluded.
Just before ten o’clock in the evening on May 23, 2005, Rocco Sollecito welcomed Beniamino Zappia to the backroom; he was an old friend of the family who lived in Milan. A few years later, Zappia (not to be confused with engineer Giuseppe Zappia, of the Messina bridge project) would be arrested in Italy for his role in a money laundering operation that involved high-ranking members of the Rizzuto clan. Sollecito explained to his visitor how things worked: each time a member of the organization earned any money, he had to turn over part of it to the “executive.”
“Whenever they do something … they always bring something and we split it amongst us, all five: me, Vito, Nicolò and Paolo [Renda],” he said (neglecting to include Francesco Arcadi on the list). “Seeing that when they do something big … we participate.”
“How do you see this; what do you think?” asked a keenly interested Zappia.
“Tito, I told you,” Sollecito answered. “You have to look at it from the right side, because we are splitting it in five, and it is right that we split.”
Zappia told him he understood.
Sometimes, part of the proceeds went to lieutenants like Lorenzo Giordano and Francesco Del Balso. Around two-thirty in the afternoon of April 12, 2006, Francesco Arcadi was observed with Paolo Renda separating cash into stacks for this purpose. “Arcadi takes one of the three stacks and Renda takes the other two, which he wraps in an elastic band,” the police summary reads. “While this is going on, Arcadi says, as he counts: ‘This is compare Rocco’s [Sollecito’s] and Lorenzo’s [Giordano’s].’ Later, Arcadi tells Renda that today Moreno [Gallo] gave him this money and they agreed never to tell anyone else about it.” (Moreno Gallo, on lifetime parole after spending several years in prison for a murder, regularly visited his cronies at the Consenza, in so doing violating the conditions of his release.)
These fortunes—the sums merited that description—were cheerfully thrown away by Lorenzo Giordano, Francesco Del Balso and the other nouveaux riches of Laval. Several of them were incorrigibly compulsive gamblers.
Giordano and Del Balso ran a sports betting website, worldsportcenter.com. Gamblers made their wagers online or via a toll-free telephone line to an employee in a call centre. Each was given an account number and password allowing them to place bets. The outfit, initially located in Montreal, then in Laval, employed between thirty-four and fifty-eight agents. At first, the website was hosted on servers in Belize, until it could be transferred to the Kahnawake Mohawk Reserve, on Montreal’s South Shore, once a gambling licence was secured by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission. The RCMP asked a bookmaking expert to study the operation’s revenues over an eighteen-month span. In a year and a half, 1,609 gamblers had made more than 820,000 bets, enabling the clan to pocket gross profits of $26.8 million. “And that was in spite of the National Hockey League players’ strike,” one police spokesperson joked. The group also operated in Ottawa and Toronto.
Francesco Del Balso got rich very quickly indeed. He was the sort who liked to gamble in person, at the Casino de Montréal, instead of, say, in front of a computer monitor on his own website. He was enrolled as a lifetime member, No. 71351, of the government-run casino. It wasn’t unusual for him to put down five thousand dollars in chips on the gaming tables, and he often blew tens of thousands of dollars in a single evening.
Like all high-stakes players, of course, Del Balso lost far more than he won. Between 2001 and 2003, he bet $7.6 million and won back only $2.5 million. A normal player would have sunk into depression, or worse, after losing $5.1 million. But Del Balso’s priority was not winning; it was washing his dirty money. Should the taxman grow suspicious and ask him to justify his income, he could simply claim that lady luck happened to smile on him often, and offer cheques for $100,000; $150,000 and even $200,000, bearing the casino stamp, as proof.
Besides Giordano, born in 1963, and Del Balso, born in 1970, the Rizzuto clan’s youth wing included another big-time habitué of the Casino de Montréal. Giuseppe Torre, who was thirty-three in 2005, variously nicknamed “Pep” and “Joe,” had made his money moving mass quantities of cocaine through Montreal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, where he had once worked. He didn’t throw down gaming chips as recklessly as Del Balso, but he loved a good game of poker and also wagered impressive sums on NFL games. A typical week might see him win ten thousand dollars and lose fifteen thousand.
Torre’s wife, Polisena, a former Air Canada flight attendant, was less than pleased with the amount of time he spent away from home. Police heard her complain about his habits to a girlfriend: “He’s never at home,” sighed Polisena, mother of their two young children. “He’s an animal. I’m going to get myself a divorce lawyer for my next birthday present.”
Despite those regular frustrations, there were benefits to Polisena’s conjugal status. She told her friend about her $60,000 gold ring set with a diamond, a diamond-studded bracelet worth $56,000, and two other diamonds worth $12,000. At age eight, the couple’s daughter had taken some fifty trips with the family. She and her younger siblings wore the latest designer fashions and were cared for by a live-in Filipino nanny who earned a pittance, three hundred dollars a week. Mrs. Torre, meanwhile, thought nothing of spending three thousand dollars on a pair of boots. Giuseppe, who was prematurely balding, spent the same sum in a bid to stay young-looking: he endured 1,050 painful hair transplant grafts.
In keeping with their jet-setting lifestyle, the couple paid five thousand dollars for second-row seats at a World Cup soccer match in Hamburg, Germany. In a span of less than ten years, the young couple had owned some twenty status-symbol vehicles, including a Ferrari, a Land Rover, a Mercedes, an Infiniti, a Jeep Grand Cherokee, two Jeep Sport TJs, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and a Vespa scooter. On May 29, 2006, Torre added a Hummer to his collection of toys and presented Polisena with a BMW M3. She was upset because she had wanted a Porsche 911, in her opinion a sportier ride. Unable to sulk in silence, she picked up the phone and unloaded to her friend again: “He gave me an M3. It’s not what I wanted; I wanted a 911. I gave him shit! I wanted a red interior; this one’s grey.”
Giuseppe Torre was no better than his wife at suffering the miseries of the rich. He called his Land Rover dealership to complain: “Listen to me, Ben. Your $100,000 lemon doesn’t run right.” Then he explained that it was embarrassing to “have a useless Land Rover in front of a million-dollar house.”
Lorenzo Giordano and his wife also lived in a home valued at more than one million dollars, in the Vimont neighbourhood of Laval. Giordano drove a Porsche Cayenne suv and also owned a BMW Z8 Roadster worth $190,000, along with a Ferrari 550 Maranello, which he showed off every year in downtown Montreal on Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend. His wife settled for a Mercedes-Benz convertible. The couple owned a sizable piece of land in the Laurentians, north of the city, and had hundreds of thousands of dollars invested here and there, or sitting in a variety of bank accounts.
Giordano’s black hair was streaked with white, which had earned him the nickname “Skunk.” He certainly lacked the tiny mammal’s generally peaceful disposition, however. His lapses in judgment had brought remonstrations from the consigliere, Paolo Renda—most notably after the violent scuffle with Iranian heroin dealer Javad Mohammed Nozarian at the Globe restaurant on Saint-Laurent Boulevard. Giordano was up to his old tricks one August evening in 2006, this time on Peel Street in downtown Montreal, outside Cavalli, another trendy Italian eatery.
Giordano was having a drink with Francesco Del Balso when they got into an argument with Charles Huneault, a Hells Angels supporter. During the altercation, Huneault briefly grabbed Del Balso by the throat. An enraged Giordano later walked out into the street, where he spotted Huneault sitting in his Porsche not far away. Skunk pulled out a gun and fired several shots into the rear of the car as stunned bystanders watched. Police were on the scene within minutes. While officers busied themselves collecting shell casings from the street and questioning witnesses, Del Balso called his good friend Domenico Macri. “So why does this guy have the honours of grabbing my throat?” he roared, then issued contradictory orders. He instructed Macri to come and help him out, saying, “Bring your toy [handgun],” then changed his mind, saying he would settle the issue himself. “You want me to show you what the fuck I’m able to do in front of these fuckin’ cops?!” he spat into his cellphone. “I’ll shoot them all.” Giordano was arrested and charged with possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose.
Far more serious accusations awaited him.
Gambling breeds debts and violence as surely as night follows day. The officers assigned to Operation Colisée had a front-row seat as events attesting to the truth of that aphorism unfolded. In November 2004, they had started tracking the movements of Frank Faustini, a compulsive gambler, former Air Canada baggage handler, and sometime drug smuggler. The thirty-seven-year-old had run up a tab of $823,000 in lost wagers made via the Rizzuto clan’s worldsportcenter.com gambling site. After issuing several warnings, Del Balso gave Faustini one month to settle his debt. When that deadline ran out on December 8, he called the website agent who had recruited Faustini and told him to warn the foolhardy gambler that he had “a fucking serious beating coming to him if he doesn’t pay.”
A week later, Faustini was summoned to the Bar Laennec. Police caught sight of him on their video screen. The view from their camera, concealed outside, was through the window of the establishment, and they could see Faustini, hands to his forehead, grimacing in pain. With him were Del Balso, Giordano and the latter’s right-hand man, a thirty-six-year-old bald-headed behemoth named Mike Lapolla. The officers could also make out blood on Giordano’s shirt. Faustini, severely beaten, could barely stand; his aggressors had to help him to his car. Shortly thereafter, Del Balso contacted him: “Please go get some money,” he told him. Faustini promised to bring $200,000 the next day. “He [Giordano] didn’t have to do that, man,” he added, referring to the beating he had just received. “Now my face is fucked up. Broke my fuckin’ nose, my teeth are gone … Now I have to get my face to the hospital.”
The dispute was serious, and complicated, and settling it would take skill and time. Faustini was also in hock for a significant amount to another creditor, Richard Griffin, aged thirty-nine, an associate of Montreal’s West End Gang.
Griffin had plotted with members of the Sicilian Mafia to import 1,300 kilos of cocaine from Venezuela, but the scheme had gone awry. In the fall of 2005, an initial shipment of three hundred kilos was on its way, hidden amidst barrels of motor oil in the hold of a freighter. The coke was unloaded in the port of Newark, New Jersey, where a cousin of Francesco Del Balso lived, and loaded onto a truck bound for Quebec. Griffin had protested: because of the stepped-up surveillance by U.S. customs agents after September 11, 2001, he thought the itinerary was unnecessarily risky. His partners at the Consenza brushed off his objections. In the end, the RCMP seized the drugs in a Boucherville warehouse. Griffin was furious: he’d invested $1.5 million in the purchase and transportation of the coke, and now, because of these incompetent Italians, he’d lost it all. He demanded that Faustini, whom he viewed as a Rizzuto underling, pay him the $350,000 that he owed him, and he threw all his energies into making him cough it up.
Faustini was now pinned between the proverbial rock and hard place, feeling the heat from both the Rizzuto clan and Griffin. He told both parties that a lawyer had deposited $1.2 million on his behalf in an account in the Bahamas, but that he couldn’t touch the money until the investment matured. After months of wrangling and shouting matches with Del Balso, Griffin finally met with Nicolò Rizzuto at the Consenza. Both wanted to be paid first.
Griffin ordered Faustini to threaten the lawyer who had invested his money in the tax shelter. “I’m not gonna tell you to kill him. But get the money back,” he said. The lawyer authorized the withdrawal of $350,000 from the Bahamian account; it was handed over to Griffin. On June 27, 2006, Del Balso telephoned him and told him to bring the money immediately. Griffin told Del Balso he would do no such thing, claiming he had an agreement with Old Nick. Del Balso didn’t buy it and said he wanted the money, right away. Griffin again refused. Early in the morning of July 12, he was fatally struck by several bullets outside his home on Terrebonne Street in the Montreal neighbourhood of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. An automatic weapon was found near his body, and a handgun turned up on the lawn of a nearby church. There were no arrests in the case.
The killing of Griffin apparently put an end to the dispute. “After July 20, 2006, surveillance revealed nothing more about Faustini’s gambling debt to Del Balso and his organization,” an RCMP officer later testified in court.
Frank Faustini wasn’t the only one in the Rizzuto clan’s orbit with a knack for getting himself into sticky situations.
Several years earlier, the Mafia had infiltrated Montreal-Trudeau Airport. A dozen customs agents, baggage handlers, employees and former employees of companies on the airport site, including Air Canada, Globe Ground North America, and Cara Operations (a food services company), were part of a network headed by Francesco Arcadi that brought large quantities of drugs into Canada.
Giuseppe Torre was one of those able to use the precious “doorway,” a code word for the network of accomplices at the airport. But he had to pay the Rizzuto family kingpins a commission equivalent to 3 percent of the wholesale price of each kilo of cocaine delivered. In January 2005, in a bid to dodge the “tax” payment, Torre’s associates lied to the clan about the quantity of coke that was in a shipment they were preparing to bring in by air via Haiti. They said they were expecting 120 kilos but had in fact purchased nearly twice that amount.
The RCMP uncovered the plot as part of the Colisée probe. When the plane landed, police and customs agents thoroughly searched it but turned up no contraband—even after removing wall panels inside the cabin. The drugs were already on the tarmac, inside concealed compartments in two baggage containers. One of the smugglers’ inside men nervously watched the investigators and decided to pile up large mounds of snow around the containers to keep them out of sight. The worried conspirators conferred several times on their cellphones, mentioning a container number. The police were listening in. Fearing the evidence might slip through his fingers, RCMP Sergeant Mike Roussy spent a sleepless night, studying the manifests of all baggage containers that had recently been unloaded. He climbed into the vehicle of an RCMP colleague assigned to the airport beat and scoured the cargo areas, checking the numbers of each container. None of them matched the number the smugglers had mentioned. Suddenly, he spied the two containers peeking out from behind a snowbank near a loading dock. As he cleared away the snow, a broad smile spread across his face.
Shortly thereafter, the Canada Border Services Agency issued a news release announcing it had seized 218 kilos of cocaine at Montreal-Trudeau Airport. Giuseppe Torre feared his life would be in danger if the Rizzuto clan put two and two together and realized he had lied about the size of the shipment. He asked his father, Gaetano, an old hand in the Montreal mob, to intercede on his behalf with Francesco Arcadi and the other clan bosses. Gaetano Torre spun a story about his son not knowing that the amount of cocaine was almost twice as much as planned, because his associates had ordered more without telling him.
Arcadi was skeptical and asked some trusted associates to investigate. One night, Frank Faustini, his lips loosened by alcohol, let slip that he and accomplices Ray Kanho and Chadi Amja had brought drugs in without telling the “executive.” Arcadi ruled that the three had to pay the clan a fine of $100,000 each. As for Torre, he was barred from earning a commission on his next cocaine delivery and warned that from then on he had to follow the rules to the letter if he wanted to keep using the “doorway.”
Torre, Kanho and the rest of the gang switched strategies immediately after the seizure of the 218 kilos, and began importing their coke from Jamaica. Their couriers had no shortage of either resources or imagination when it came to moving the drugs and took to stuffing cocaine in food and drink containers destined for aircraft passengers. Accomplices then recovered them at Montreal-Trudeau Airport and handed them over to the backers. At the same time, baggage handlers intercepted suitcases that had been identified for them before they reached the carousels and held on to them for a later handover.
The smugglers also used every technique possible and imaginable to corrupt airport employees and civil servants. If the latter were women, they advised their associates to turn on the charm.
Marilyn Béliveau, who was twenty-five years old in 2004, worked at the head office of the Canada Border Services Agency on Place d’Youville in Old Montreal. She was in a position to clear containers holding drugs through customs, bypassing inspections. She had access to the agency’s information systems, and could log in from her computer to track the location of any container and find out where it was being stored. A gang member with whom she had become romantically involved introduced her to others in the trafficking network, and she agreed to work with them. The sideline paid well, there was the thrill factor, and she thought it wasn’t especially risky. “If it doesn’t work out, I won’t start crying,” she said on the phone one day, unaware the line was tapped. “I have a degree, I could find work somewhere else. If it works, well, so much the better.” Instead of pocketing $100,000, as she’d hoped, she lost her job and wound up in court.
Nancy Cedeno, a thirty-year-old mother of two from Laval, was also a customs agent but worked at the airport. In the summer of 2004, she met twenty-nine-year-old Omar Riahi, who had worked as a trainee customs officer. The two became friends. Riahi left Montreal for Halifax, Nova Scotia, hoping to reorient his career by becoming a military police officer. Several months later, the two met by chance as they stepped outside to take a cigarette break at Montreal-Trudeau Airport. Cedeno’s marriage was on the skids; her husband was neglecting her. As a result, she was receptive to Riahi’s advances. He flattered her, cheered her up, told her she was pretty. “He told me all the things I wanted to hear,” she said later at her trial.
“Things that your husband wouldn’t do?” her lawyer asked.
By the end of the summer of 2005, Riahi had convinced Cedeno to supply him with pre-stamped customs cards; more specifically, the E311 Customs Declaration Cards that flight attendants hand out to Canada-bound passengers before landing. Travellers enter the quantity and nature of goods they are bringing in from abroad on the card, and hand them in at an initial customs control point, at the same time as they show their passports. The customs agent may then stamp the card or direct the traveller to a second control point where his bags are searched. At her trial, Cedeno testified that she had asked Riahi why he needed pre-stamped cards. “You don’t need to know, baby,” he said. “The less you know, the better.” She told the court she thought he might be helping someone import contraband goods—like Gucci handbags, for example.
In fact, Riahi was working for Giuseppe Torre and Ray Kanho. Upon arrival at Montreal-Trudeau, their couriers simply had to show their pre-stamped E311 cards, and they knew their bags wouldn’t be searched. On September 27, 2005, one mule was arrested as he boarded a plane in Haiti carrying nine kilos of drugs in his luggage. When they searched him, customs agents found one of the cards pre-stamped by Cedeno. She heard about it, and when Riahi next asked her for cards, she told him she was worried and asked him straight out if he was using them to smuggle drugs. “Come on, baby!” Riahi said. “Where are you getting this from? You know me; I’d never put you on the hook.” Cedeno told the court that Riahi had seemed annoyed by her questions. She was paid a mere five thousand dollars for her services.
The network was bringing in huge amounts of money, with the lion’s share going to Torre and Kanho. The former had the keys to the airport “doorway,” while the latter handled the supply of cocaine. A thirty-year-old Canadian born in Lebanon, Kanho spoke English, French, Italian, Arabic and Creole. He was in tight with Montreal street gangs and had connections in Haiti, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and South America. In one phone conversation recorded by police, he told of how he had paid the Rizzuto clan three million dollars in “taxes” in a single year. “I make a lot of money too, but I end up blowing it,” he said one day.
Kanho was in the habit of hiding the cash from his dealings under the stairs in the basement of his parents’ home on Pie-IX Boulevard in Laval. He reckoned it was safe, but he hadn’t counted on the cleverness of certain burglars. Worse, those burglars happened to be cops.
As Operation Colisée moved into its home stretch, investigators began worrying that some evidence, notably the proceeds of their suspects’ crimes, might vanish before they had time to proceed with arrests. They had been tailing Ray Kanho and his accomplices for two years. On the night of September 14 to 15, 2006, they knew the house in Laval would be empty: Kanho’s parents were holidaying in Las Vegas with his sister, his wife and their young children. The thieves could expect no surprises as they went about their work. The police had secured special authorization from a judge to commit a perfectly legal break-and-enter.
The team neutralized the home’s alarm system and made their way to the basement. Under a plastic sheet beneath the stairs they found a sports bag along with a metal aircraft food container that had been stolen from Air Canada. They contained 28,794 hundred-dollar bills, neatly rolled and secured with elastic bands. The police grabbed the booty, re-armed the alarm system, purposely damaged the back door to make it look as though a real burglary had taken place, and left. At 4:41 A.M., an employee of Sentinel Alarm called Kanho, who lived close by. Kanho rushed to his parents’ house, saw that the money was missing, and, to the delight of the police listening in, started making frantic phone calls. He called his wife first: “There’s been a robbery at my parents’! The money’s gone, they took the two million!” (In fact, there had been almost three million dollars under the stairs.) Most of the money belonged to Giuseppe Torre and Francesco Del Balso. Kanho resigned himself to calling Torre before sunrise. When he did, Torre listened, stunned.
“There was nobody home, the thieves came in and took everything,” Kanho bleated. “Don’t tell me this, man,” a furious Torre answered, wanting to know how Kanho could have been so stupid as to leave the house unattended.
Kanho suspected Alfred, his sister’s husband. He called Las Vegas again. “They knew what they were looking for,” he told his sister. “They were looking for the money. That means it’s someone who knew there was money here. They went downstairs and went through everything. They took all the money, but they didn’t touch the gold or the Rolex in Mom’s room.” He asked whether Alfred had the alarm system code, and where he had been during the night.
“I’m gonna fuckin’ choke the guy,” he later told Torre when he arrived at Kanho’s parents’ house. “I’m gonna kill him!” The phone was ringing constantly. Kanho’s mother theorized that perhaps his “black friends” or his “Italian friends” were responsible. “Nobody knew there was money downstairs,” an infuriated Kanho retorted. Kanho’s wife then called Torre, asking him to move a large sum of money that she and her husband had hidden in their bathroom. She was already considering putting her and her in-laws’ houses up for sale. “It’s all worth at least two million. We’ll go live in an apartment,” she sighed.
Kanho, armed with a handgun, set out to scour the streets of Montreal in search of his brother-in-law. Up to that point, RCMP officers had found the unfolding story quite entertaining as they listened to the wiretapped conversations. But now the tale had taken a grim turn, and it might well end with a murder. They asked Montreal police for reinforcements, and at approximately a quarter to nine in the morning, officers in a patrol car stopped Kanho’s car at the corner of Dorchester Boulevard and Greene Avenue in Westmount. He was with Woodley Zéphir, age thirty, a known member of a street gang aligned with the Crips. The handgun was fully loaded. Kanho was escorted to the nearest police station, where federal agents were waiting to let him in on their secret: “It’s the RCMP that has your money.” The stunned trafficker stared at the business card that one officer held out to him. “The RCMP?” he repeated.
There was nothing incongruous about the fact that Woodley Zéphir was in Ray Kanho’s car. Made up mostly of young men of Haitian origin, Montreal’s street gangs were an increasingly active component of the city’s underworld. They had become more prominent since the spring 2001 crackdown on the Hells Angels Nomads and the Rockers, the Angels’ puppet club, and were vying for the attention of the Sicilian Mafia and their associates. The emergence of these new players, who were only loosely organized, who were extremely combative and who thought nothing of flaunting the established rules of the street, inevitably sparked tension. Some Mafiosi admired the street gangs’ pugnacity and were delighted that there was now a seemingly inexhaustible supply of drugs from Haiti. Others voiced unabashedly racist sentiments to associates: they called the street gang members wild animals, ruthless and disrespectful.
Many among the younger contingent of the Mafia hung out in the same bars and nightclubs as the gangs. One such establishment was the Moomba Supperclub, a trendy night spot that was part of Centropolis, an upscale “lifestyle centre” in Laval that included restaurants and stores for all tastes. The sixty-hectare “village” was promoted as a fine place to “walk, talk, shop and dance”—in a safe and secure atmosphere. Wednesday was Latin Music Night at the Moomba, and it attracted a well-heeled young clientele in their late twenties and early thirties. Their Jaguars, Porsches and Ferraris filled the huge parking lot.
Early in the morning of Thursday, March 9, 2005, Thierry Beaubrun, a twenty-eight-year-old goateed Haitian, elbowed his way onto the Moomba’s crowded dance floor, where about 250 people were gyrating to the throb of salsa music. Beaubrun’s bellicose stare met that of Mike Lapolla, age thirty-six. Harsh words were exchanged, soon followed by flying fists. Then Beaubrun pulled out a handgun, shot Lapolla at point-blank range and ran out toward his car. Friends of Lapolla followed and took Beaubrun down with several bullets to the body and head. Police and ambulance technicians arrived to find both men mortally wounded. They were taken to nearby Sacré-Cœur Hospital, where they died a short time later.
Both men were known to police. Beaubrun was a member of the 67s and the Crack Down Posse (CDP), extremely aggressive gangs who claimed allegiance to the Crips, or “Blues”; their sworn enemies were the Bo-Gars and other outfits aligned with the Bloods, or “Reds” from northeast Montreal. At the time of the Moomba shooting, Beaubrun was facing armed robbery charges. The 67s had provided him with a Hummer and a Jaguar, which said a lot about his rank. This particular gang was fearless: its members sold drugs in Italian cafés, knowingly and defiantly infringing on Mafia turf. There were even rumours that they’d stolen drugs from Mafiosi, or sold them powdered soap passed off as cocaine.
“Big Mike” Lapolla had been Mafia muscle. He owned a small transport company and was a close associate of Lorenzo Giordano. Lapolla also had a prior drug conviction. Five years earlier, he had barely escaped an ambush in the offices of a construction firm in southwest Montreal. His associate Francesco Veltri, Agostino Cuntrera’s brother-in-law, had not been as fast, or as lucky, and had not survived.
A member of the Sicilian clan immediately notified Francesco Arcadi that Lapolla had been murdered. It was a little after four in the morning. “Our Mike?” an incredulous Arcadi asked. That afternoon, Giordano, who had seen it all go down at the Moomba, went to the Consenza to give an account of the events to the “executive.”
The shooting was on everyone’s mind for several days. There was no consensus among the clan’s caretaker leadership as to how to proceed. It was at times like these that Vito Rizzuto was sorely missed: Arcadi and the others lacked his faculty for conflict resolution. Arcadi thought that there was no sense playing cowboy; that they should wait and see how things played out—a strategy that surprised even the police investigators who were listening in. Rocco Sollecito’s son Giuseppe, on the other hand, said they should “send a message” to the 67s to keep them away from the Italian cafés. “There will be blood,” he predicted (it was in fact an accurate forewarning). He said the “blacks” were “not people you can sit down and reason with. They’re not like us. They are animals.”
Blue, the colour of the 67s, dominated at Beaubrun’s funeral, with blue-ribboned floral arrangements and even blue-dyed water in the vases. The Lapolla family, meanwhile, urged the friends of the deceased to donate to the Montreal Children’s Hospital, “as a token to Mike’s unfulfilled desire to have children of his own one day.” The obituary notice described him as a “man who was a loyal son, the forever baby brother and pillar to his sister, a true friend to all that he befriended,” and would “be remembered for his joie de vivre but most of all his unrelenting desire to make everyone around him happy and safe. In his short life he had many accomplishments, whether in his business life or the sports he chose to participate in. We ask ourselves, why did he have to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and why did he have to be involved at all. But that was Mike; if danger was imminent then he had to help in taking care of the problem.”
Management at Correctional Services of Canada feared the deadly duel at the Moomba might spill over into the Regional Reception Centre in Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, present home to Vito Rizzuto. The federal detention centre also housed a number of street-gang members, who might seek to avenge the death of Beaubrun by going after the Mafia godfather. Guards moved Vito to an isolated cell for a few days, hoping the storm would blow over.
The street gangs were not the only source of danger, however. Francesco Arcadi found that out one day at the Consenza when he was visited by some disagreeable customers. One Luigi D’Amico, accompanied by one of his sons, Tiziano, had come to complain about the outcome of a job that involved smuggling marijuana into the United States, overseen by the Hells Angels chapter in Sherbrooke, Quebec. The D’Amicos claimed the Rizzuto clan owed them $900,000. The dispute would soon degenerate into violence.
Luigi D’Amico, an old Mafia hand, did his business in the Eastern Townships. He used to run a sheep, goat and chicken farm with one-time Calabrian clan chieftain Vic Cotroni, and later opened a restaurant in Granby, an hour’s drive east of Montreal.
Arcadi rebuffed the D’Amicos’ demand of payment and was later heard complaining that they had threatened to cut off his head. The Consenza crew then decided to do a little intimidating of their own. They chartered a helicopter and flew over the D’Amicos’ houses. One of their cars was set on fire as well.
The counterpunch was not long in coming. On Halloween night in 2005, four costumed men rang the front doorbell at the north Montreal home of a close associate of Arcadi’s, Nicolò Varacalli. The quartet weren’t trick-or-treaters. They were armed, and they had come to take Varacalli away. His wife found one of her husband’s slippers among the decorative pumpkins in front of the house and realized he’d been abducted. The kidnappers explained to the Rizzuto clan that they had nothing against Varacalli in particular, but demanded payment of the drug debt. Arcadi, whose underlings associated the D’Amicos with the “Frenchmen”—meaning, in this case, the Sherbrooke Hells Angels—was despairing and admitted he was afraid. The police microphones at “The Cos” recorded him saying, “There’s no more money now. Just leftovers.”
The D’Amicos videotaped their hostage and circulated the cassette. “A mistake has been made; we have to find a way to fix it,” Varacalli said to the camera, addressing the Rizzuto clan leadership. “You need to talk to them [the D’Amicos]. Don’t think you’re untouchable. You might be surprised. Don’t think they’re farmers. There are lots of them and they can get you.”
Soon afterwards, Luca D’Amico, Luigi’s nephew, dropped off a letter at the Consenza. Apparently written by his uncle in Italian, it was addressed to Nicolò Rizzuto. Arcadi read it out loud in the backroom of the social club: “Dear Zio Nicolà, I am still against forgiving those who have done this [to] me. [We] have to reach a friendly agreement.” The D’Amicos mistrusted Arcadi and asked that his boss intercede. As a gesture of good faith, they freed Varacalli. Interrogated by police, he said he had been treated well by his abductors and declined to press charges.
When old Nick procrastinated with the money, the D’Amicos’ next tactic was a show of force. Nephew Luca, accompanied by Patricio D’Amico, another of Luigi’s sons, and a colleague walked into the Consenza, casting hostile glances at the customers at the counter, who included Paolo Renda and Rocco Sollecito. One of the visitors was armed. The trio departed within minutes, flashing signals as they reached the sidewalk. A motorcade of SUVS and Mercedes sedans—eight vehicles in all—rolled up to the café door to pick them up, then cruised slowly out of the strip mall parking lot. Two hours later, Arcadi was heard ordering clan members to round up a few soldiers and watch out for trouble, because the “crazy guy,” Patricio D’Amico, was still roaming the neighbourhood.
Soon, Arcadi wasn’t leaving home without a handgun at his hip, and men were constantly guarding the interior and exterior of the Consenza. The “executive” were now escorted round-the-clock by young armed soldiers. Nicolò Rizzuto reportedly sent for a quartet of seasoned hit men from Venezuela.
Police worriedly observed all these signs that seemed to suggest there was a violent rift within the local Mafia—or rather, that it might fracture into several rival factions. Far from placating internecine tensions, as Vito Rizzuto had so often done in earlier years, Francesco Arcadi was only worsening them.
On August 11, 2005, Giovanni “Johnny” Bertolo, aged forty-six, was leaving the Metropolis gym, in the east-end Montreal neighbourhood of Rivière-des-Prairies, and about to step into a BMW suv when he was cut down by a burst of automatic weapons fire. Bertolo had two careers; he was a representative for a painters’ union as well as a loan shark. He was a good friend of both Jocelyn Dupuis, director general of QFL-Construction, the powerful construction wing of the Quebec Federation of Labour, and gangster Raynald Desjardins, Vito Rizzuto’s long-time drug-trafficking partner. Bertolo had been arrested and jailed as part of a cocaine importing scheme with three accomplices, one of whom was Desjardins’s brother. Released after four years, he decided to go back to dealing drugs as soon as his parole period ended. In the interim, a member of Arcadi’s crew had taken over. Bertolo was warned that his old turf was now controlled by someone else, but he started dealing there regardless, believing he had protection in high places. When he ignored the warning, he was eliminated.
Bertolo’s protector was convinced he had been killed on orders from Arcadi. He let his desire for vengeance ripen on the vine for a year, until a hit team murdered Arcadi’s nephew Domenico Macri. A frequent sight in Rivière-des-Prairies cafés that were fronts for drug dealing, Macri had been convicted of heroin trafficking. Police theorized that whoever ordered the hit might in fact have asked the killers to go after Arcadi and that Macri was taken out by mistake.
At around three in the afternoon on August 30, 2006, Macri was riding in a Cadillac driven by Mario Iannitto in the Rivière-des-Prairies neighbourhood. As Iannitto waited at a red light at the intersection of Henri-Bourassa Boulevard and Rodolphe-Forget Boulevard, two men on a Japanese motorcycle rode up at high speed and braked sharply, pulling even with the Cadillac. The passenger, clad in black, his face hidden by a helmet and visor, jumped to the ground and unloaded his weapon at the occupants of the car. The bullets shattered the Cadillac’s passenger side window, mortally wounding Macri. It was over in seconds. The killer jumped back on the rear of the bike, the driver opened up the throttle, and they were gone in a deafening roar. Though hit by gunfire as well, Iannitto managed to keep driving and made it about a kilometre farther. They were now near Arcadi’s house.
The 911 call was recorded at 3:19 P.M. The two victims were transported to hospital. Iannitto had a neck injury, but it was not life-threatening. In Macri’s case, however, the doctors could do little more than pronounce him dead. He was thirty-five years old. At 3:36, Francesco Del Balso’s BlackBerry chimed. He was talking to Giuseppe Torre in front of a hair salon next to the Bar Laennec. The hidden police camera recorded his image as he raised the BlackBerry to his ear. The caller, an associate named Salvatore Scali, told him to be careful, and that something serious had just happened.
“Who?” Del Balso asked.
“Near the compare’s (Arcadi’s) house. Domenic and Mario are in the hospital.”
Del Balso, who thought of Macri as a brother, hurled the BlackBerry and a chair at the bar window in a rage. Then he ran to Torre’s Land Rover. The two men sped toward the scene of the murder. On the way, Del Balso called his superior, Lorenzo Giordano.
“Yeah, bro, they shot DM, man,” he cried. “He’s dead! He’s dead in front of the compare’s house! What are we going to do now?”
“I want to see you in person,” Giordano answered.
Torre reckoned the killers were street gang members. “But that doesn’t mean anything,” he told Ray Kanho. “Everybody’s using those guys for hits now.”
The next morning, the Consenza and the Bar Laennec were the scenes of frantic activity. The members of the Mafia braintrust, who had so dismally failed as Vito Rizzuto’s successors, were upset, talking about the need for a quick counterattack, then realizing they didn’t know who the target should be and changing their minds. Police noted the presence of Nicolò Rizzuto, Rocco Sollecito, Paolo Renda, Francesco Arcadi, Lorenzo Giordano, Francesco Del Balso, Moreno Gallo and Tony Mucci. The conversations were rambling.
“I really don’t know what happened,” Giordano said in a low voice, punctuating his admission with an Italian curse. True to his hard-case reputation, he favoured quick action to deal with the aggressors. “They got one of ours this time,” he added. “We can’t let this pass.” He insisted that Arcadi’s crew and the members of the “family” needed to mobilize, and he even mentioned a rival faction in Montreal North. “How many are they, twelve, thirteen, fifteen?” he asked.
“When the order comes to play with the band, they’re gonna have the instrument in their hands but not know how to play,” Sollecito pontificated, imploring Giordano and Del Balso not to act in haste. “Compare, we are already starting to study the situation,” he added. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a big fucking problem.”
“Me, I agree. Here we are, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” Arcadi declaimed, as if begging for divine intervention. “I agree that it’s things that we have to reason out; things have to be measured, things have to be evaluated. But when it gets to a certain point and we are touched by some stupidities, the discussions have to be short.”
If Arcadi seemed to be stumbling over his own thoughts, it was doubtless because he knew he had probably been the intended target of the killers on the motorbike. He often rode with Mario Iannitto in the Cadillac that had just become his protegé’s hearse. And just moments before the hit, he had been in a car ahead of Iannitto and Macri, his brother Stefano by his side. They had beaten the red light and crossed the intersection. They’d even driven past the two hit men, he said. His brother had looked right at them.
“Can you imagine in what position I find myself? In front of the door of my house?” he said. “Domenic dead. Dead in the car … My brother, nephew, my daughter-in-law, my wife and everything … Immediately I loaded everything in the truck and headed to the airport.”
Renda agreed that the situation was becoming dangerous for all of them. “See, what you gotta do now, find an island. Take your wife and leave,” he told Arcadi.
“Yes, even your wife. Come on, come on, they’re getting worried, compare, you know what I mean?” Giordano added.
“The others will be all right, compare,” Renda said.
Arcadi didn’t have to be told twice. He flew to Europe with his wife, where they spent several months, staying in Italy at first, then taking a cruise with stops in Malta, Tunisia, Spain, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands.
The top brass of the Montreal Mafia treated the late Domenico Macri with the deference due a “man of honour.” For two days, they paid their respects to the family of the deceased at the Loreto funeral home, owned by the Renda and Rizzuto families, on Des Grandes-Prairies Boulevard. On September 5, 2006, they prayed for his soul at Marie-Auxiliatrice Church on Maurice-Duplessis Boulevard—barely two kilometres from where he had been killed. A dozen armed guards, including Charles-Édouard Battista and Giuseppe Fetta, kept watch outside. As usual, the funeral was an occasion for mob members to socialize. Police noted the presence of Francesco Cotroni Jr., son of Frank, who had died two years earlier. Not far away were Agostino Cuntrera, who had taken part in the killing of Paolo Violi in 1978, and Vito Rizzuto’s two sons, Nick Jr. and Leonardo, the lawyer. Nick Sr. did not attend; and of course Francesco Arcadi was gone (word was going round among police that he was hiding out somewhere or had already fled to another country). The other habitués of the Consenza and the Bar Laennec were all there at church, with their fathers or sons—Paolo Renda, Rocco Sollecito, Lorenzo Giordano, Francesco Del Balso and Giuseppe Torre among them.
A few days after the funeral, Girolamo Del Balso, Francesco’s father, expressed his sadness at seeing young people drawn into such deadly enterprises by the thirst for material gain: “It’s true they have a lot of money. They don’t know what to do with it, and you see what happens today. It’s the price to pay for making money like that.” Then, more philosophically, he wondered: “How can they live with serenity when they need $100,000 a day to survive? It’s a huge problem …”
His son had more pragmatic preoccupations. “Today it was him [Macri]. Tomorrow, it could be me,” Francesco was heard saying. He ordered two armoured vehicles from a Toronto manufacturer that he located on the Web. He told the sales rep he wanted the most secure vehicles available and that he needed them immediately; they had to be able to stop AK-47 rounds and have bombproof flooring to boot. The salesman ran off a list of what he had in stock. Del Balso chose two armoured suvs: a Nissan Pathfinder Armada and a Toyota 4Runner. When told the cost for both would be $160,000, he said, “Doesn’t matter. What matters is that I get them right away.”
Now, Del Balso and his cronies never went out in the streets without a handgun tucked into their belts or shoulder holsters. A five-man squad was put together to escort bosses Nick Rizzuto, Paolo Renda and Rocco Sollecito. Hidden cameras filmed them on the eve of Macri’s funeral, in a warehouse garage belonging to Del Balso on Saint-Laurent Boulevard. Charles-Édouard Battista was seen handing a machine gun to Giuseppe Fetta, then assembling another automatic weapon, then testing a silencer-equipped pistol by firing a shot into the floor. A later search by police turned up a bona fide arsenal in the garage, including a sawed-off shotgun, body armour and ammunition.
Police were on the qui-vive, fearing a bloodbath. With Francesco Arcadi having fled the country, investigators worried that other suspects might drop out of sight as well. Operation Colisée had been ongoing for the past four years. Vito Rizzuto had been extradited to the United States on August 17, two weeks before Domenico Macri’s murder. Anything could happen now. It was time to strike.
On November 22, 2006, hardly any of the seven hundred police officers ordered to be ready early the next morning knew exactly why they were being asked to rise at such an ungodly hour. But orders were orders. For security reasons, only the Operation Colisée senior investigators knew what was going on. It was only when they arrived at their respective stations that the others learned that they were about to be part of the biggest roundup of Mafia members in Canadian history. They donned their bulletproof vests, secured their holsters and set out in hundreds of vehicles. Their mission: arrest ninety people in all, and search dozens of homes, stores and offices.
At precisely 6 A.M., eight unmarked police cars, followed by two vans, all with headlights off, turned from Gouin Boulevard West onto Antoine-Berthelet Avenue. The drivers switched off the ignition. Officers stepped out and quickly circled the stately homes of Nicolò Rizzuto and Paolo Renda. Investigators rang the front doorbells. Renda’s wife, Maria, Nicolò Rizzuto’s daughter, opened the door. Paolo Renda was already waiting on the mezzanine above. He wore work pants. One of the officers said, in a loud voice, “You are under arrest,” then climbed the stairs to where he was. After Paolo had been escorted to a vehicle for the ride to the police station, Maria offered the remaining officers coffee. She offered no protest when they proceeded to search the house and the two Mercedes in the garage. They seized more than ten thousand dollars in cash, two rifles, a vintage revolver, ammunition and hundreds of photos (several of which, according to the search and seizure report, depicted “known subjects” in the company of a businessman who was just as well known).
Officers had to wait a bit longer on the doorstep of the Rizzuto mansion. They rang three times at the door flanked by tall white columns, but no one answered. Officer Tonino Bianco called the couple’s number on his mobile phone. Libertina Rizzuto answered. Bianco asked her, in Italian, to let them in. Libertina slowly opened the door. Sergeant Michel Picard told her they were there to see her husband. Nicolò Rizzuto emerged from the bedroom in his underwear.
Mrs. Rizzuto, who was seventy-nine years old, suddenly became short of breath. A female officer tried to calm her down. Old Nick, three years his wife’s senior, said that Libertina occasionally had anxiety attacks, and that they should give her a pill to relax her. Not wanting to take any chances, the police decided to call an ambulance. Officers then asked Nicolò to get dressed so that he could accompany them down to the station. They showed him their search and arrest warrants, and began reading him his rights, in English. “Never mind that,” Rizzuto said. “A lawyer will take care of that.” Unlike his wife, he seemed unperturbed by the officers’ early-morning visit.
The Sicilian Mafia’s éminence grise sauntered over to his huge, methodically ordered closet, where he chose a brown jacket, matching trousers and a spotless white waistcoat. Told that her mother was feeling unwell, Maria Renda rushed over from next door. The matriarch was seated on a stretcher, surrounded by ambulance workers, but defiantly refused to leave her home.
Now dressed, Nicolò Rizzuto sank into a couch on the ground floor. He had changed his mind and wanted to read the search and arrest warrants in detail, himself. As he perused the papers, the investigators began their search of his home. It would take eleven hours. Officers noted the obsessive care with which the owners had arranged every last one of their possessions. Nothing, absolutely nothing, was lying about. Clothes and shoes were neatly aligned in racks and on shelves, carefully folded and stored, as if on display in a luxury boutique. The knobs on the closet doors had been freshly painted and, in the drawers, socks were stacked according to colour. It was as if the owners were expecting a visit from inspectors. Some psychologists theorize that a chaotic arrangement of one’s possessions represents life, while rigorous order symbolizes death. If there is any truth to that school of thought, then the Rizzutos’ home was a crypt.
There was life on display, however, in the many family photographs adorning the walls and the Italian-style furniture. Officers’ eyes were especially drawn to those showing their beloved son, Vito, in happier times. They also found three video cassettes of Nicolò and Libertina’s fiftieth wedding anniversary, eleven years earlier. The guests smiling and carefree, the theme from The Godfather playing repeatedly in the sumptuous banquet hall of the Sheraton Montreal Centre-Ville: yes, there had been far happier times in the couple’s life.
Before facing the television and newspaper cameras, Old Nick slipped into a grey overcoat and set a chestnut-brown fedora on his bald head, tilting it to just the right rakish angle. He was the picture of a 1940s Hollywood gangster. Officers put the finishing touch on that likeness: a pair of handcuffs. Then, escorting their prize catch, they stepped outside. Nicolò Rizzuto grinned broadly for the assembled photographers and video camera operators. One of the photos was seen around the world, widely published in newspapers and on websites in the United States, Germany and China, among other countries.
At RCMP regional headquarters in Westmount, Rizzuto was escorted into a gymnasium, laid out for the occasion into several cubicles for the purpose of interrogating the Mafia members and collaborators who would be arrested and brought in throughout the day. Like the other top clan leaders, Rizzuto was treated to a short film screening: the surveillance video showing him dividing up stacks of cash with Renda, Sollecito and Arcadi, then stuffing his share of the loot into his socks. After ten minutes or so, he stood and asked to be taken to his cell. “Nice work,” he said to one investigator. “We’ll see each other in court with my lawyer.”
Francesco Arcadi, who had by then returned from his self-imposed exile in Europe, was arrested that same morning outside his country home near Hemmingford, sixty kilometres due south of Montreal, minutes from the U.S. border. He was wearing a camouflage jacket and was about to go hunting with a friend. As he saw the police vehicles racing up the narrow road leading to his luxury cottage, he lost control of his vehicle, which slid into a ditch. The hulking Arcadi’s wrists were so thick that officers were unable to get their steel handcuffs around them and had to use plastic restraints. No doubt still fearing reprisals from the D’Amico gang of Sherbrooke, Arcadi had an arsenal of weaponry in the cottage.
That day, police netted seventy-three of the ninety suspects on their list, including big fish like Rocco Sollecito and Francesco Del Balso, as well as co-conspirators like Nancy Cedeno, the corrupted customs agent. Seventeen others were still at large. Marilyn Béliveau, the other customs agent involved in the Montreal-Trudeau Airport cocaine network, was in the United States. A few days later, on the advice of her lawyer, Gary Martin, she turned herself in to Canada Border Services agents at the Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle–Champlain border crossing. It took a bit longer to reel in Lorenzo “Skunk” Giordano, who was arrested six months later in Toronto, where he was hiding out. He had dyed his hair black to hide the characteristic white streaks that had earned him his nickname, and had grown a chinstrap beard. He had kept constantly on the move, but eventually gave himself away when he made a phone call to Montreal.
Giordano and a few cronies had expected to be arrested long before the massive sweep on November 22, and had made plans to leave town by the fifteenth of the month. That was the date that the officers in charge of Operation Colisée had originally set for the arrests, but they had to postpone the raid by a week because of an unexpected constraint: there would not have been enough judges at Montreal’s Palais de Justice that day, because they were in a meeting.
The authorities levelled 1,179 charges at the suspects for crimes committed between 2003 and 2006, including gangsterism, conspiracy to import drugs, drug trafficking, illegal gambling, extortion, corruption of civil servants and tax evasion. Almost all of the accused pleaded guilty or were found guilty by the courts, and were sentenced to prison terms of varying length.
Libertina Rizzuto complained to friends that her family was the victim of discrimination. Her son was in prison in the United States; now her husband and son-in-law had been arrested. It was all too much for her. “More than fifty years we’ve been here,” she groaned, in Italian. “We’ve always been good to everyone. We never refused anyone’s cry for help, and they put my husband and my son in prison. It is damnation.”
The RCMP’s chief superintendent for Quebec, Richard Guay, congratulated his officers. “Thanks to our investigators, we penetrated the heart of this criminal organization,” he said. “We were able to observe the activities of members of this group and obtain evidence in places where the organization felt it was safe. We were able to expose this criminal group where they thought they were out of sight. Project Colisée has exceeded all our expectations.”
“We think it is a very serious blow to Italian organized crime,” added Corporal Luc Bessette.
Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli’s RCMP commented simply that the raids were the culmination of “one of the most important police operations in the history of Canada.” It was true, but hardly anyone was listening to the commissioner himself anymore, given that he was by this point deeply mired in the Maher Arar and RCMP pension-fund scandals. Three weeks later, he would hand in his resignation.